November 23, 2011

Coast to coast

More news about: Linfield | Wesley

Mickey Inns, Shane McSweeny
Mickey Inns, left, and Shane McSweeny (with Steve Koudossou) lead their teams into Saturday's second-round game.
Inns by Rusty Rae, McSweeny and Koudossou Wesley athletics photo

By Andrew Lovell
D3sports.com

Safety Drew Fisher and cornerback Christian Hanna give the Linfield secondary senior experience.
Linfield athletics photo

One team has reached the NCAA semifinals four times since 2005, while the other is just seven seasons removed a Stagg Bowl title, the last by a team other than Mount Union or UW-Whitewater.

One calls Dover, Del., its home; the other, McMinnville, Ore. One is ranked No. 7 in the country, the other is ranked No. 5. But when this Saturday rolls around, and Linfield and Wesley line up for their second-round matchup, it will mark a first for both storied programs.

In a rare Division III battle of the coasts, Linfield will come east for the first time since the 2004 Stagg Bowl to face Wesley in arguably the best matchup so far of this year's playoffs.

This Linfield-Wesley matchup isn't your normal second-round game. In fact, it's one Linfield coach Joe Smith said deserves a better buildup.

"It's great for Division III [but] it's ridiculous that it's in round two," Smith said. "I think that's an absolute sham. This should be a semifinal-type matchup, or at least a quarterfinal matchup, and I think that's a disservice to the two programs, but there are seven or eight teams [that can win the Stagg Bowl] and these are two of them."

How do two of the top seven teams in the country end up playing in the second round of the playoffs? It's simply a byproduct of the NCAA's layout of this year's bracket. The Mary Hardin-Baylor quadrant, which features Linfield and Wesley, is loaded. All eight of the teams were ranked 31st or higher in the final D3football.com poll of the regular season. Like Smith, Wesley coach Mike Drass noticed that immediately upon viewing the bracket.

"I thought the eight teams in our region were extremely talented," Drass said. "I don't know what other people think, but in my humble opinion ... it seems like there's a heck of a lot of talent on the teams in our [bracket]."

While it was confirmed that Mary Hardin-Baylor was the No. 1 seed, seeds for the other seven teams weren't revealed. So Smith and Drass didn't find out until Sunday morning which team was hosting. With nearly 3,000 miles separating the two schools, there was a little more at stake than usual. Smith was discouraged to find out his squad drew the short end not only travelwise, but timewise as well. The noon ET kickoff will feel like 9 a.m. for coaches and players used to living out west.

"It's a huge challenge, and I think that's something that I'd like to see changed in Division III for teams that are facing a three-hour time difference earlier," Smith said. "It's really only the west teams. ... It's ridiculous. You're getting a wake-up call at, what seems to you, at 4:30 in the morning. That's just not very conducive."

Smith said the Wildcats have played four games in central time zone areas, such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, over the last eight years. To his knowledge, a 2004 matchup with Rowan stands as Linfield's only matchup with an East Coast team.

Drass, who has been forced to travel long distances in past postseasons, understands what Linfield is up against, but admitted he was relieved his team was selected to host.

"Without question [we're happy to be hosting]," Drass said. "We've been in this situation before. We had to fly to Texas around Thanksgiving and you're trying to do everything you can to take care of your families, take care of kids. You have to try and do your best to help your families, but you've got to travel your team."

The Wildcats will fly out to Delaware on Thanksgiving itself, Smith said. Ultimately, the travel and time zone difference only underscore the true value of this game -- a potentially classic matchup between two of Division III's best teams over the last decade.

The numbers speak for themselves -- Linfield is 93-15 since 2002, including 14-5 in the playoffs. That includes a Stagg Bowl title and another NCAA semifinals appearance in 2009. Wesley is 99-21 since 2002, including a 16-6 mark in the playoffs. That includes four NCAA semifinals appearances since 2005.

"I think it's an exciting game," Drass said. "... Here are two teams, when people talk about some of the better football teams in Division III, our names have both come up. It's a great opportunity for a West Coast school to play an East Coast school, and vice versa. That's exciting."

Wesley and Linfield both had to grind out wins in the first round, a theme that will likely continue for the winner of Saturday's contest.

Wesley held off a banged-up Hobart squad 35-28, but made the game closer than it should have by turning the ball over four times inside its own 20-yard line. The Wolverines also allowed a blocked punt, which Hobart returned for a third-quarter touchdown to keep things close.

Quarterback Shane McSweeny was sharp, completing 18 of 27 passes for 336 yards and five touchdowns, while rushing for 61 yards.

"Shane, obviously, is our leader," Drass said. "When he's having success, we're having success."

Mike Asiedu
Mike Asiedu is second on the Wolverines in tackles and has a 90-yard interception return to his credit.
Wesley athletics photo

Askia Jahad, a bigger back with above-average speed, has stepped in nicely for Brandon Wright, who was lost for the season with a torn ACL in the Wolverines' seventh game of the season. Tight end Sean McAndrew (30 receptions, seven touchdowns) is McSweeny's security blanket in the passing game. Wide receivers Matt Barile and Steve Koudossu are both big-play threats, while Jeremiah Howe is a reliable slot/possession-type of receiver.

Defensively, the Wolverines boast a fast, athletic unit, led by defensive end Chris Mayes. Defensive tackle Paul Gilstrop and linebackers Jeff Morgan, Mike Asiedu and Sosthene Kapepula are also key factors on one of the country's best defenses.

Linfield quarterback Mickey Inns (2,448 yards, 28 touchdowns, six interceptions) has been one of the country's most consistent signal callers this season. Inns threw for 152 yards and tossed touchdowns to three receivers in the Wildcats' 30-27 win over Cal Lutheran in the first round. Running back Josh Hill also had a strong day, rushing for 146 yards and 27 carries. Drass said Hill has 2,000-yard potential and will be a key focal point for Wesley's defense.

Linfield sits at 10-0 and is coming off a third straight Northwest Conference title. Wesley, an independent, enters the game with a 10-1 mark, its only loss coming in the second week to Kean. Drass said that loss served as a wake-up call. So much so, in fact, that Drass said the Wolverines tallied their "turning point" victory just three weeks later against Charleston Southern, a Division I FCS team with 60 scholarship players.

"After we lost to Kean, I thought, as a team, we had one of two directions to go," Drass said. "We went through that same situation in 2009 when we lost to Delaware Valley the first game of the season. We know the drill, you can't lose, especially if you're independent like we are, or in the Atlantic Central, which was only a four-team league back then."

The winner of Saturday's matchup will likely earn a quarterfinal matchup with Mary Hardin-Baylor, which faces McMurry in the second round. But for now, both coaches are focused on their new -- and quite formidable -- opponents.

"We're pretty excited about it," Smith said. "We've never been to Delaware, I've never been there. It's fun to go somewhere new and those guys are a good coaching staff. We're pretty excited about it, it'll be fun."

Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
Christopher Newport 17, at TCNJ 0
Final
at Hobart 27, Union 23
Box Score Recap
Final
at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
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Final
at Massachusetts Maritime 32, Worcester State 14
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Final
at Endicott 37, Nichols 0
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Final
MIT 30, at Maine Maritime 13
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Final
at Buffalo State 40, Morrisville State 24
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Final
at Salve Regina 48, Coast Guard 10
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Final
St. Lawrence 20, at RPI 14
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Final
at Framingham State 23, Western Connecticut 17
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Final
at Montclair State 21, Rowan 14
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Final
at Stevenson 54, FDU-Florham 15
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Final
at Trinity (Conn.) 38, Bates 7
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Final
at Western New England 59, Curry 28
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Final
at Utica 24, Cortland 13
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Final
Colby 9, at Williams 7
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Final
at Middlebury 40, Bowdoin 3
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at Amherst 34, Hamilton 0
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Final
Kean 24, at William Paterson 13
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Final
at DePauw 66, Hiram 17
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Final
Franklin and Marshall 45, at Juniata 22
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at Kenyon 31, Allegheny 7
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Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
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Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
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Final
Lycoming 28, at Misericordia 24
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at Plymouth State 30, Mass-Dartmouth 14
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at Husson 35, Alfred State 0
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at Springfield 28, WPI 23
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at Moravian 24, Dickinson 10
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at Denison 45, Wooster 7
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at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
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at St. Vincent 57, Grove City 32
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at Susquehanna 55, Gettysburg 40
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at King's 21, Lebanon Valley 17
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at Alfred 20, Ithaca 6
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at Widener 25, Wilkes 23
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at McDaniel 30, Ursinus 27
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at Muskingum 28, Marietta 10
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at Minnesota-Morris 28, Iowa Wesleyan 27
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at John Carroll 42, Heidelberg 14
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Ohio Northern 16, at Otterbein 10
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Case Western Reserve 35, at Waynesburg 7
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at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
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Rose-Hulman 23, at Defiance 15
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at Centre 49, Chicago 27
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at Mount St. Joseph 38, Manchester 19
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Hanover 49, at Anderson 25
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at Merchant Marine 55, Rochester 7
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Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
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Concordia-Chicago 42, at Maranatha Baptist 10
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Final
Washington U. 36, at Birmingham-Southern 21
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UW-Platteville 56, at Lakeland 0
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at Northwestern (Minn.) 38, Martin Luther 20
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at Eureka 28, MacMurray 13
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at Westminster (Mo.) 35, Greenville 14
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Dubuque 30, at Luther 17
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Monmouth 52, at Lake Forest 6
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St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
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Final
at Augsburg 49, Carleton 17
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Bethel 44, at St. Olaf 7
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at Hamline 42, Gustavus Adolphus 40
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Final
at UW-Whitewater 35, Morningside 21
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at Hardin-Simmons 48, Texas Lutheran 38
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at UW-River Falls 42, Southwestern 22
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Final
Simpson 17, at Buena Vista 9
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at St. Scholastica 49, Crown 13
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Cornell 46, at Beloit 41
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at Carthage 27, Augustana 24
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Coe 48, at Nebraska Wesleyan 17
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at Wartburg 56, Finlandia 0
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at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
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Hendrix 42, at Millsaps 14
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Illinois Wesleyan 45, at North Park 10
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at Macalester 34, Grinnell 0
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at Ripon 33, Knox 19
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Illinois College 40, at Lawrence 15
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UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
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Central 42, at Loras 34
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at Geneva 35, Thiel 27
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UW-Eau Claire 40, at Wisconsin Lutheran 14
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St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
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Final
UW-Stevens Point 44, at Adrian 19
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UW-La Crosse 41, at Carroll 7
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Final
at Berry 41, Sewanee 3
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Final
Westminster (Pa.) 38, at Bethany 9
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Ohio Wesleyan 29, at Oberlin 16
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at Tufts 17, Wesleyan 14
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Final
Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
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Final
at Capital 35, Wilmington 21
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at Southwestern Assemblies 23, Austin 17
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Cancelled
Langston at McMurry
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Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Chapman 19, Trinity (Texas) 17
Box Score Recap
Sep. 29: All times Eastern
6:30 PM
Randolph-Macon at Shenandoah
Live Stats
Sep. 30: All times Eastern
6:30 PM
Emory and Henry at Washington and Lee
Video Live Stats Audio Audio
Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hobart 27, Union 23
Box Score Recap
Final
Christopher Newport 17, at TCNJ 0
Final
at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
Box Score
Final
Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
Box Score
Final
Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
at Utica 24, Cortland 13
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Stevenson 54, FDU-Florham 15
Box Score Recap
Final
at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
Box Score Recap
Final
St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at UW-Whitewater 35, Morningside 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 48, Texas Lutheran 38
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Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
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Final
UW-Platteville 56, at Lakeland 0
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Final
UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
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Final
Central 42, at Loras 34
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Final
St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
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Final
Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
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Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap